Many Americans, particularly older adults, struggle with hearing loss. It is an extremely common problem in people over 65, and is often the result of a combination of factors. Simple wear-and-tear on the delicate mechanisms of the inner ear over time, in addition to sustained exposure to loud noises, certain medications, and some illnesses, can all contribute to hearing loss.

Hearing loss can be extremely frustrating, as it involves the gradual loss of a sense on which most people have depended throughout their lives. People with hearing loss often find it difficult to follow conversations, and may have to ask others to repeat themselves many times. To people with hearing loss, it may seem as though other people are not speaking clearly. It is frequently difficult for people experiencing hearing loss to hear in environments with lots of ambient noise, such as restaurants and other public places. For these reasons, many people with hearing loss have a tendency to become socially isolated, as trying to interact with others becomes too exasperating. Being unable to hear smoke alarms, verbal warnings, and the sounds of motor vehicles or other potential threats can pose additional risks.

Because of the potential hazards faced by those with hearing loss, as well as its general impact on quality of life, it’s important for people experiencing hearing loss to seek help right away. Hearing aids are a common, and often effective, treatment for hearing loss. A hearing aid is a small device that is placed in the ear and amplifies sound. For people with more profound hearing loss, a tiny electronic device called a cochlear implant is often helpful. This device is implanted in the inner ear by a surgeon, allowing the patient to regain some hearing. Other interventions include assistive listening devices that amplify sounds from the telephone, as well as smart phone and tablet apps, and hearing-loop systems in theaters and other public venues. Finally, the low-tech option of lip-reading is extremely effective for some people who suffer from hearing loss. Special training from a lip-reading coach or teacher can enable people with hearing loss to understand speech and participate in conversations with more comfort and ease.

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